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Teaching Students Social Media Awareness

Recently 72 officers in Philadelphia were placed on desk duty because of social media posts on their personal sites. This brings up a lot of questions, but also lessons we can share with our students.

For all of the details of the case, this NPR article is a great starting point:72 Philadelphia Police Officers Placed On Desk Duty Over Offensive Social Media Posts.


Here are some discussion questions worth asking your students about this isue: 

  • Should police officers and other criminal justice practitioners have social media accounts? Why or why not? 
  • Does this infringe on the officer's first amendment rights? 
  • Should police/judges/correctional officers/etc., be held to different standards than those in other careers? 


All of this should lead to fruitful conversation. But, ultimately I think the lessons for our students and their PERSONAL accounts are what is most important. 


Some class activities you can try: 

  • Have students break into groups or pairs and examine one another's social media accounts to see if students can find posts that, upon reflection, might cause them problems if they were currently working in law enforcement.
  • Have students examine their OWN social media accounts for things that may be questionable or may be taken out of context. 
  • Find obviously questionable social media accounts and have students examine right and wrong. 

Remind students that ALL social media accounts may be accessed: Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. 


Remember that all examples can be taken differently by different individuals. It is important to discuss examples AS A GROUP so that students can start to see how the same thing can be viewed differently by different individuals.


Posts worth discussing: 


  • Pictures of young people (or anyone) drinking. 
  • Numerous NEGATIVE social media posts on the same account. 
  • Sharing too much about your personal life on social media. 
  • Black Lives Matter Posts
  • Politicians' use of social media. 


What examples would you add to this list? Do you have any specific pictures? Posts?


Additional Resources


It is not just police officers who have been fired.  I have seen private school teachers and newscaster fired for their posts, as well, in my area.


Agreed. I'd expect firings rather than just demotion/"desk duty" for anything like this.


I'm appalled at some of the posts i see from professionals!

Valued Contributor

Social media awareness is a topic I've started address in my freshman composition classes. Students need to think about audience, tone, message, and content for EVERYTHING they post, including pictures, shares, and likes! 

Frequent Commenter

I totally agree with you, Audrey. What is funny to one person may be absolutely offensive to another so if there is any doubt, it is better to not post or share something.  I hadn't thought about the likes, though.   We need to educate ourselves and our students about the pitfalls of social media.

Valued Contributor

Extremely important topic and should be applicable for everybody regardless of their profession. Public service professionals are probably more under scrutiny like teachers or law enforcement personnel but it should encompass the general population. So awareness at an early stage, even in high schools, is required given the proliferation of social media today in our society.